Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Corner

Letters Never Sent

Yad Vashem Publications' new release, Letters Never Sent: Amsterdam, Westerbork, Bergen-Belsen by Mirjam Bolle is a personal historical account of persecution, distress and anguish.  
In early 1943, Mirjam Levie, a young Jewish woman from Amsterdam, began writing letters to her fiancée, Leo Bolle with whom she was deeply in love. Bolle had immigrated to Eretz Israel a few years earlier. "I am vain enough to believe that this diary may be found hundreds of years from now and serve as an important source of information. That's why I included all the trivial things, because they may provide an outsider with a more vivid picture. After all, I'm so caught up in all this that I can't put myself in the shoes of a person who isn't going through this himself and therefore knows nothing about it. Perhaps one day our children will read it."

Her letters, which were never sent, were written during the deportations of the Jews from Amsterdam; during her incarceration in Westerbork, the main transit camp for Jewish deportees to the death camps in Poland; and during her imprisonment in Bergen-Belsen.
As secretary in the controversial "Joodsche Raad voor Amsterdam" (the Jewish Council for Amsterdam), Mirjam's letters are the only remaining source to describe events from the viewpoint of one of its members. Mirjam managed to hide the letters she wrote in Amsterdam and Westerbork; and those she wrote in Bergen-Belsen she brought with her when she was released as part of an exchange between Dutch Jews and German POWs, and arrived in Eretz Israel on July 10, 1944.

Excerpt from book: Westerbork
Letters Never Sent
"My darling. I'm all alone in the school at the moment. "Alone" is a relative notion, for there are at least 100 children outside, with all the noise that playing children make…I had got as far as our arrival at the station. As I wrote, this was an extremely difficult moment. I kept looking around me to see if there was any chance of escape, but there wasn't. Hundreds and hundreds of people filled the platform, nothing but familiar faces, of course…The wagons were unbearably hot. And we had to sit on the floor, of course. Now this matters little to me, but imagine the elderly people. Besides, people kept fainting, while some suffered panic attacks and others had their hands trampled on so they were bleeding. It was a pitiful sight. The train was interminable, and still more people filed onto the platform, huffing and puffing with their heavy luggage. Some, elderly people and parents with young children, sat on top of their luggage on the platform, waiting for someone to help them onto the train. Just like migrants. Many were in tears, naturally, while others just sat there staring. Children were wailing, there was screaming and shouting, but also some jolly greetings, such as "You are here as well?" from spirited youngsters…"

Letters Never Sent: Amsterdam, Westerbork, Bergen-Belsen is available for purchase online or may be ordered by email. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

From Our Artifacts Collection: Hanukkah Menorahs

In celebration of Hanukkah this week, highlighted below are a few exceptional Hanukkah menorahs from Yad Vashem's Artifacts Collection. The creative and original menorahs are remnants of the cultural and religious life of Jewish communities that attempted to maintain Jewish tradition during the Holocaust.

Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection, Donated by the Remonstrant Church, Netherland.

This nineteenth century Hanukkah menorah was found, wrapped in newspapers dated 1941, under the floor of the former synagogue in Alphen aan den Rijn, Holland during renovations carried out in the 1980s. The Jewish community of Alphen aan den Rijn was destroyed during the Holocaust. The synagogue, in which the menorah once stood, became a church. 

Yad Vashem artifacts Collection, Donated by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania, Bucharest.

This brass Hanukkah menorah was made from available materials by Jews who were deported from Romania to the area of Transnistria during the Holocaust, where they were abandoned by authorities. 

Yad Vashem Artifacts collection, Gift of Bella Bialik, Tel Aviv

This compact silver Hanukkah menorah folds up into the form of a prayer book. It was presented to Mordecai Rumkowski, head of the Judenrat in the Lodz Ghetto by Ziso Eybeshitz who ran the paper factory in the Ghetto. The menorah was found in the ruins of Rumkowski's home in the Ghetto.

View more photos from Hanukkah before, during and after the Holocaust on Yad Vashem's online Exhibition: "Hanukkah- The Festival of Lights."

Monday, December 22, 2014

"All of Israel are Responsible for One Another"?

International Research Conference at Yad Vashem

The Yad Vashem International Institute for Holocaust Research hosted an international conference from December 15, 2014 to Thursday, December 18, 2014.  The conference entitled, "All of Israel are Responsible for One Another”? included researchers, historians and leading experts from all over the world, including Israel, Italy, Sweden, Austria, U.S.A., Germany and Canada. They presented lectures on various topics including solidarity, mutual help, animosity and tensions within Jewish society in Nazi Europe. The conference took place with the generous support of the Gertner Center for International Holocaust Conferences and the Gutwirth Family Fund.

“The conference addressed important and challenging issues, and raised central questions relating to coping mechanisms of the individual and the community in various situations during the Holocaust,” said Director of the International Institute for Holocaust Research, Dr. Iael Nidam-Orvieto. “It raised questions about the lack of, or existence of Jewish solidarity, explored conventional wisdom, and offered different types of reactions and coping vis-a-vis times of extreme crisis – from organized rescue through hostility and division.”

The opening session took place on Monday, December 15, 2014 with remarks from Professor Dan Michman, Head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research of Yad Vashem and Incumbent of the John Najmann Chair for Holocaust Studies. Also addressing the opening session included: Yad Vashem Director General Dorit Novak, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council Rabbi Israel Meir Lau and Yad Vashem Chief Historian Dina Porat. Prof. David Engel, Maurice R. and Corinne P. Greenberg Professor of Holocaust Studies and Chair of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University, presented the opening keynote address, entitled On Jewish Solidarity in Modern Times: What Might the Experience of the Holocaust Reveal about Modern Jewish History? Other topics addressed during the conference included families in Eastern European ghettos confronting starvation, deportation and murder; revenge and justice in the prewar concentration camps; and leadership and alternative leadership in the Kovno ghetto and Jewish communications during the Holocaust.

The concluding session took place on Thursday, December 18, 2014 with remarks from Prof. Dan Michman. "The conference addressed the aspect of expressions of Jewish solidarity and tensions within Jewish society in Nazi Europe through several perspectives: the dimensions of the ideal of mutual responsibility in the Jewish tradition, and its meaning for situations in the Holocaust; the question of the connection between unity and power in modern Jewish history and its repercussions for that period; and a broad variety of situations in which solidarity was tested - in camps and ghettos, by organizations and individuals, in thought and actions. The papers showed also that there were several levels of solidarity. Altogether, some recent claims that all solidarity collapsed were proved as being gross exaggerations."
Steven Katz, Boston University, U.S.A.
In addition, a keynote addressed by Steven Katz, Boston University, U.S.A. on Kol Yisrael Arevim: Interpreting the Concept of Jewish Solidarity. Katz noted in his closing address, "As we listened intensively to the informative papers on a wide range of topics related to many geographical areas given at this conference, I would add the following based on what I've heard and learned… Despite the extraordinary context of the Shoah, unlike any previous context in Jewish or world history we have together been told of examples of Jewish solidarity…in the Polish ghettos and among the Jewish underground… the case of Jews in Eastern Europe who cared for each other…the responsibilities by doctors and nurses in the Warsaw ghetto…how they collaborated with each other in labor camps…most extraordinarily we heard about solidarity evident even at Auschwitz. I strongly agree with Professor Dalia Ofer that each context needs to be studied separately and in detail…when you finish that exploration, it seems to me that there still however leaves many questions. The really puzzling question, the truly deep and provocative question… based on the cumulative evidence…is not why there were so many failures in Jewish solidarity, so much selfishness …but rather the important issue given the conditions of intentional dehumanization, hunger, brutality, sadism, sickness, disease, rape, and the natural desire to stay alive…in this context the really profound issue is: How could there have been so many acts of moral courage, of mutual care, of ethical response? Perhaps millennia of Jewish solidarity and emphasizing, "All of Israel are responsible for one another" did make a difference. However limited and constrained, however unpredictable and uncertain, however bent by the crooked timber of mankind this difference was. In light of what I learned this week, I would argue that this is an authentic possibility that requires and deserves further reflection." 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Holocaust-Era Menorah home for Hanukkah

Following tradition, each year the Mansbach family comes to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum to bring home their menorah to use during the festival of Hanukkah. The menorah was donated to Yad Vashem by the Mansbach family and is on permanent display in the Holocaust History Museum. Today, Yehuda Mansbach, the grandson of Rachel Posner, came to Yad Vashem to take the menorah home where he will light the candles in celebration of Hanukkah. This year, the Hanukkah menorah will also be used in a Hanukkah ceremony for the soldiers in the IDF battalion of Mansbach's son.
Yehudah Mansbach carefully packing up his grandfather’s Hanukkah
 menorah which is on display at Yad Vashem throughout the year,
 except during the festival of Hanukkah. Photo: Marisa Danson    
Rabbi Dr. Akiva Posner, Doctor of Philosophy from Halle-Wittenberg University, served from 1924-1933 as the last Rabbi of the community of Kiel, Germany. After Rabbi Posner publicized a protest letter in the local press expressing indignation at the posters that had appeared in the city:  "Entrance to Jews Forbidden," he was summoned by the chairman of the local branch of the Nazi party to participate in a public debate. The event took place under heavy police guard and was reported by the local press. When the tension and violence in the city intensified, the Rabbi responded to the pleas of his community to flee with his wife Rachel and their three children and make their way to Eretz Israel. Before their departure, Rabbi Posner was able to convince many of his congregants to leave and many in fact managed to leave for Eretz Israel or the United States. The Posner family left Germany in 1933 and arrived in Eretz Israel in 1934. Some eighty years later, Akiva and Rachel Posner's descendants continue to light the Hanukkah candles using the same menorah that was brought to Israel from Kiel. 
Both the Hanukkah menorah and the photograph are on display at Yad Vashem. 

The Mansbach family menorah 
 Rachel photographed the menorah from the
 window ledge of the family home looking out on to 
the building across the road 
decorated with Nazi flags just prior to the elections that 
would bring Hitler to power,
On the back of the photograph she wrote (in German),
“Hanukkah 5692,
‘Death to Judah"
So the flag says.
 ‘Judea will live forever,’
 So the light answers.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Book Corner

The Journey of Ilse Kaufmann: Vienna-Prague-Buenos Aires

Yad Vashem Publications' new release, The Journey of Ilse Kaufmann: Vienna-Prague-Buenos Aires, is a personal testimony of Ilse Kaufmann's survival in the Holocaust.   

Each story of wartime survival is different, but knowing whom to trust is a dilemma shared by many who were struggling to survive the reality of war. In Ilse's story, a bottle of cognac saved three people, a marriage proposal saved two families, and the help of a loyal governess made all the difference. Growing up in in prewar Vienna as the only daughter of her adoring banker father and beautiful mother, Ilse Kaufmann (nee Hahn) had a sheltered childhood. When the Germans invaded Austria in March 1938, Ilse was in Olmutz, a small town in Moravia, visiting her Aunt Alicia. Ordered by her father not to return home, she found herself alone with her Aunt, worried about her parents who were caught in occupied Vienna. Four months later, she was joined by her parents in Czechoslovakia, and the family's struggle and long journey to freedom began.

Ilse's marriage to Adalbert (Bela) Kaufmann, a hotel manager whom she met in Prague, assisted the family in establishing connections with the Argentine embassy, and in late 1941, her parents acquired Argentine passports, which enabled them to flee Czechoslovakia. A year later, Ilse, her husband and their son were among the last Jews remaining in Prague. With their "non-German" passports they successfully made the journey to Spain via Berlin, then crossed the border to Lisbon and secured a place on one of the final ships to sail across the Atlantic Ocean during the hostilities, arriving in Argentina in early 1943.

Ilse wrote her life story with the assistance of Helena Pardo, who was introduced to Ilse by a mutual friend, and the co-writing of this book created a lifelong friendship between the two women. In the foreword chapter of the book, Pardo describes Kaufmann as "a woman who fought not only for her own life but also for the life of her loved ones; a woman who had the people she most loved taken away from her by death."

The Journey of Ilse Kaufmann is a story of rescue, love, family and friendship, and is a heartfelt chronicle of survival.

Excerpt: "That night, at three in the morning, we woke up with a start to the sound of boots marching, fists pounding on our front door and the doorbell ringing insistently. "Open up! Gestapo!" a voice yelled outside the door. They entered immediately and began searching and breaking everything. They even had the nerve to pick the child up out of his crib. I had just managed to make it into the bathroom to conceal a document my father had entrusted me with, placing it inside the hem of my nightgown."

The Journey of Ilse Kaufmann: Vienna-Prague-Buenos Aires, by Ilse Kaufmann and Helena Pardo, is available for purchase at the Yad Vashem online store.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Yad Vashem Mourns the Passing of Naphtali Lau-Lavie

Yad Vashem mourns the passing of Holocaust survivor, journalist, author and diplomat Naphtali Lau-Lavie yesterday at the age of 88. Naphtali was the older brother of Yad Vashem Council Chairman and former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau.
The two brothers, who were born in Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland, survived the Holocaust together, after their parents and other siblings were murdered.  Sixteen-year-old Naphtali was entrusted with the care of his five-year-old sibling, and looked after him through the Czestochowa slave labor camp and then in Buchenwald, where they were liberated by American forces in 1945.

"For three years, I served as father and mother, guardian and protector to my younger brother Israel Meir, or 'Lulek,' as we called him," wrote Naphtali in his autobiography, Balaam's Prophecy. "I often felt despair attacking me, flinging me helplessly to my destruction. I think it was the mission my father gave me, to bring my younger brother to safety and to ensure the continuation of our family’s rabbinic dynasty, that kept me alive and gave me the will to continue fighting for our lives, rather than succumb to the horrible fate that befell the rest of our family."

After arriving in the Land of Israel, Naphtali joined the Haganah and spent the rest of his life in service to the State of Israel and the Jewish people. He worked as a newspaper military correspondent; a spokesman for Moshe Dayan, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir; Israel's consul- general in New York; and Vice Chairman of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, investigating Jewish properties that had been confiscated by the Nazis as well as the Soviet regime. He was also deeply committed to Holocaust commemoration: he was a member of the Yad Vashem Council and gave extensive accounts of his wartime experiences. Segments of his testimony are featured in Yad Vashem's Holocaust History Museum on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau described his older brother Naphtali as his "real hero," in his memoirs, Do Not Raise Your Hand Against the Boy. "Naphtali had a mission, and he could not allow himself to fail. This mission helped him to stay alive. He suffered weeks of sleeplessness, cold, hunger, and disease, which brought him to lose all interest in life. But he knew he could not sink. He could not give up."

Yad Vashem extends its deepest condolences to Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Naphtali's wife Joan, and his children and grandchildren.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Tribute to Heroes

Today, in an emotional and gripping ceremony at Yad Vashem, Petro and Kateryna Durniak from Ukraine were posthumously honored as Righteous among the Nations. Their daughter, Christina-Ludmila Kril flew in especially from Ukraine to accept the medal and certificate on their behalf. Members from the Ukrainian Embassy, along with Fredi Gruber, son of Righteous Josef Gruber and friends of Petro Durniak attended the event.  

The ceremony began in the Hall of Remembrance where Christina rekindled the Eternal Flame in memory of the six million victims of the Holocaust. The ceremony continued in the Yad Vashem synagogue where Christina humbly accepted the medal and certificate of honor. Christina told the exceptional story of how her parents graciously saved the life of a young Jewish girl, Anna-Barbara and took her into their home as one of their own. In the summer of 1942, when 50,000 Jews from Lwow (today Lviv), were deported to their deaths at the Belzec Extermination Camp, David Winter and his wife made the painful decision to to separate from their newborn daughter, Anna, in order to increase her chances of survival. They secretly took Anna out of the ghetto and asked David's Ukrainian friend Petro Durniak to watch over their baby daughter. Kateryna was pregnant, and soon gave birth to a child. The couple changed Barbara’s name to Anna, and introduced the two children as twins. Tragically their own child died shortly afterwards. Durniak grew very attached to little Anna-Barbara, and his wife often complained that he preferred her to their daughter Christina, who was born in 1944.

Petro Durniak

Kateryna Durniak

The Winter couple survived the Holocaust and the first news they heard of their daughter came from David's brother, Nachum Winter. Nachum was a soldier in the Red Army and after his hometown Lwow was liberated, he requested time off and traveled to search for any of his relatives who may have survived.  He found his niece at the home of Kateryna Durniak (she and Petro were separated at this time) and gave her his monthly salary in gratitude for care of his niece. Before he left he took a photograph with his niece. When Nachum discovered his brother and his wife at one of the refugee camps in Central Europe, he informed them that their daughter was alive and sent them the picture he had taken with Anna-Barbara. David and his wife contacted Kateryna and organized for Anna-Barbara's transfer to them, across the border of the USSR.

The Winter family moved to Israel, but shortly afterwards they emigrated to Austria. With time, the Winters lost contact with the Durniak family. However, the Durniaks never forgot Anna-Barbara. Kateryna kept her picture in a family photo album and after her death, her daughter Christina kept the photograph.

The rescue story of baby Anna-Barbara came to light in 2013 when Fredi Gruber, whose father Josef Gruber was recognized as Righteous among the Nations in 2005, traveled from his home in Israel to Lviv to meet his father's family.  Fredi also searched for any descendants of his father's friend, Petro Durniak. He arrived at Christina's home and she showed him the picture of Anna-Barbara as a small child. Upon his return to Israel, Fredi turned to Yad Vashem and told Anna-Barbara's rescue story. After further investigation, the Department of the Righteous among the Nations uncovered a testimony given by Fredi's mother, Antonia Gruber, in 2005. In a single sentence she mentioned that her future husband's friend, named Durniak, had rescued a Jewish girl. In addition, a testimony from 1961 of Nachum Winter was found in the Yad Vashem Archives where he gave a detailed explanation of how he discovered his niece. Attached to his testimony was the picture that was taken of Nachum and Anna-Barbara at Kateryna's home. These two photographs, the one saved by Nachum from the Durniak family, and the photograph that was in David Winter's testimony, clearly show the same child. Therefore, with the help of testimony which was given more than fifty years ago, Yad Vashem was able to connect the two parts of this story. 

Anna-Barbara as a child

When Christina spoke of her mother, she said that she had a difficult childhood growing up. Despite her hardships, when faced with the responsibility of taking in Anna-Barbara, her mother said there was no other option. "My mother was orphaned as a child. People who suffer either become bitter and vengeful or choose to be sensitive and care for the suffering of others. Clearly, my mother chose the latter." Fredi Gruber, son of Righteous among the Nations, Joseph Gruber also said a few words during the ceremony. He said that his parents were good friends with the Durniaks and called the Durniaks 'heroes.' He also spoke about his initial meeting with Christina in Lwow. When Fredi first met Christina in August 2013, he suggested to her that he thought, her parents should be honored as Righteous among the Nations. However, Christina said, "But why? They aren't alive anymore." Fredi and Christina then met at a later time and she told him when her mother was dying she asked, "Where is my Anna?" Fredi asked her again if she would object if he recommended her parents be honored as Righteous to Yad Vashem and Christina finally agreed.

Christina-Ludmila Kril with a member from the Ukrainian Embassy at the Hall of Remembrance  

The ceremony concluded at the Garden of the Righteous among the Nations where the Durniak's names were revealed on the Wall of Honor. Christina proudly posed for pictures next to her parent's names. She was also joined by Fredi Gruber who excitedly pointed out both the Durniak's names and on the adjoining wall, his parents' names. The inspirational story of the selflessness and bravery of the Durniak couple who risked their lives to save a young Jewish girl will never be forgotten. 

Christina-Ludmila Kril accepted the medal on her parent's behalf 
Christina-Ludmila Kril with Fredi Gruber at the unveiling of her parent's names at the Garden of the Righteous among the Nations 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Yad Vashem comment on the theft of part of the "arbeit macht frei" sign from Dachau

While we do not know who is behind the theft of the sign, the theft of such a symbolic object is an offensive attack on the memory of the Holocaust.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Recognizing the Rescuers

Some 70 years after the last days of the Holocaust, inspiring stories of rescue continue to come to light. Today, in an extraordinarily moving ceremony at Yad Vashem, Antoine Sala and his daughters Henriette, Louise, Marie Paule and her husband, Giovanni Angeli were posthumously honored as Righteous Among the Nations. Veronique Dorothy, Marie Paule and Giovanni's  granddaughter, arrived especially from France to attend the ceremony and accept the medal and certificate on her family's behalf. Holocaust survivor Henri Dzik who was rescued by the Sala Family, met Veronique and proudly introduced her  to his extended family – children, grandchildren, and more - who literally embody the Talmudic saying embossed on the medal: Whosoever save a single life, saves an entire universe  
            The ceremony began with a memorial service at the Hall of Remembrance where Dorothy lit the Eternal  Flame in honor of her grandfather, Antoine Sala and his daughters Henriette, Louise, Marie Paule and her husband, Giovani Angeli. Afterwards, the ceremony continued at the Yad Vashem Synagogue where the exceptional story of the Sala family was told of how they graciously took Henri into their homes and saved his life. Antoine Sala was a barber who lived with his children in Pau, France. One of his daughters, Marie-Paule, was married and lived near her father with her husband, Giovanni Angeli. In 1942, the two families hid Henri Dzik, a Jewish child from Paris, and protected him until the end of the war. At the beginning of the war, Henri's father, Maurice volunteered for the French army. When France surrendered, he was released, however he decided not to return to his family in Paris but stayed instead in Pau. Henri and his mother Anna stayed in Paris. On July 16, 1942 during the Vel d'Hiv roundup, Henri spent time in a summer camp for Jewish children in La Varenne, France. Anna managed to escape when the French police arrived and fled Paris together with her sister Esther and one of their neighbors. She was very worried about Henri and asked her sister to help her return to Paris, and the three of them crossed the French demarcation line and were joined by Maurice in the "free zone."  They made contact with the Sala family and Henri was sent to them.

Dorothy Veronique lighting the Eternal Flame at the Hall of Remembrance

The Sala family took care of Henri and treated him as if he were family. He became attached to Marie-Paule's children, especially Yvan who was the same age as him. He spent his days with Giovanni and Marie-Paule, but due to the lack of space in their apartment he went to Antoine's home to sleep at night. Henri quickly got used to his new life. Thanks to the devoted care of his rescuers, Henri managed to live a fairly normal life, protected from danger and fear. At the end of the war, Maurice Dzik, who had joined the French forces that fought in North Africa, came to collect Henri, and the family returned to Paris. The two families kept in touch for about a year, but over time the connection was lost. The families reconnected recently, after Henri's son discovered Yvan, who remembered his childhood friend Henri from the period of the war. 
After Dorothy humbly accepted the certificate and medal on behalf of her family she read a  speech from her father, Yvan Angeli who was unable to attend the ceremony. Yvan noted that is a shame that his family could not be here today to accept this award however "It is with great pride and appreciation, that myself along with my wife, my children Igor and Veronique, honor those who protected Henry Dzik and are unable to be here today with us." Thanks to the devoted care and bravery of the Sala family, Henri recounted how he managed to live a generally fairly normal life and survived the war. Henri commented: "They were well aware of the perils that awaited because of my presence among them. Their solicitude at all times have saved me."  Henri now has a vibrant and beautiful family who were so excited to partake in this ceremony. Henri said that along with his family will be forever grateful to Dorothy and her family for risking their lives to save Henri. 

Dorothy Veronique and Dora Weinberger, commission pour la designation des justes accepting the certificate and medal of honor

The certificate and medal of honor

The ceremony concluded at the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations where together Henri and Dorothy eagerly unveiled the Sala family names on the Wall of the Honor. Henri and Dorothy posed for pictures next to the wall of names along with Henri's family. It was a moving and special moment to see Dorothy together with Henri and his beautiful family who are here today thanks to the unforgettable bravery and heroism of one special family.

Dorothy Veronique and Henry Dzik unveiling the Sala family names on the Wall of Honor

Dorothy Veronique and Henry Dzik and family 


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Archeological Digs Reveal Sobibór Gas Chambers

Archeological excavations at the Sobibór extermination camp have been conducted by Yoram Haimi and his Polish associate Wojciech Mazurek since 2007. In 2013, the Dutch archeologist Dr. Ivar Schute joined the project, which is being carried out in coordination with Yad Vashem's International Institute for Holocaust Research, the German-Polish Foundation and the Majdanek State Museum. Over the years, thousands of personal items have been found at the site, including rings, pendants, earrings, jewelery, perfume bottles, medicine cases and food utensils. 
This week, the water well used by prisoners at Camp I, in which the uprising took place, was also discovered. The well contained numerous personal items belonging to Jews; the Germans filled the well with waste during the camp's liquidation.
Dr. David Silberklang, Senior Historian at the International Institute for Holocaust Research and Editor-in-Chief of Yad Vashem Studies, commented on the new findings at Sobibór: "The discovery of the gas chambers at Sobibór is a very important finding in Holocaust research. It is important to understand that there were no survivors from among the Jews who worked in the area of the gas chambers. Therefore, these findings are all that is left of those murdered there, and they open a window onto the day-to-day suffering of these people. We will now be able to know more precisely what the process of murder was in the camp, and what the Jews went through until they were murdered. Additionally, finding the gas chambers and their capacity will enable us to estimate more precisely the number of people murdered in Sobibór." Dr. Silberklang added that these findings complement what is already known about the camp from survivors who escaped during the uprising from the camp.
Archeologist Yoram Haimi: "After eight years of excavations at Sobibór, this is a great acheivement for me and the research staff. Finally, we have reached our goal – the discovery of the gas chambers. We were amazed at the size of the building and the well-preserved condition of the chamber walls. The most poignant moment was when we found a wedding band next to the gas chambers, on which was the Hebrew inscription: "Behold, you are consecrated unto me."
The Sobibór extermination camp was located near the village and railway station of Sobibór, in the eastern part of the Lublin district in Poland, not far from the Chełm-Włodawa railway line.The camp was established along with the extermination camps of Treblinka and Bełżec as part of "Operation Reinhard." During the period of the camp’s operation, April 1942 - October 1943, some 250,000 Jews were murdered there. In the wake of the camp uprising on 14 October 1943, the Germans decided to dismantle the camp. The site has remained bare, lacking any characteristic traces of it being a former extermination camp. In order to provide information about the specific details of the camp, until now researchers used survivor testimonies. However, these testimonies provided information about only part of the camp, which made an actual blueprint and reconstruction of the whole camp impossible.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

His Legacy Lives on – an Encounter at the Museum of Holocaust Art

by Deborah Berman 

I am a proud descendant of the Jewish artist Carol Deutsch, my great uncle, who was murdered during the Holocaust. This week I had the honor of accompanying my aunt, Josette Deutsch-Nelson, Carol's niece and her son Philip Nelson on an emotional visit to Yad Vashem’s Museum of Holocaust Art, where Deutsch's works are on display. Josette was only five years old when she and her parents and two brothers fled Antwerp in May 1940, just days after the German invasion. Fleeing to Spain and eventually Portugal, they secured travel documents through the heroic efforts of the Portuguese Diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who was later recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

We were warmly received by Niv Goldberg, Collections Manager of Yad Vashem's Museum of Holocaust Art, who presented Josette with a reproduction of Deutsch's illustrations and interviewed her. As she began to speak I was suddenly overwhelmed by the sensation that my aunt was an actual living link to the past. Interspersed with personal reflections and anecdotes, the events she described that took place over 70 years ago became as real to me as if they had happened just last week

While my father and his family succeeded in escaping from Belgium, Carol Deutsch along with his wife Fela and young daughter Ingrid were not as lucky. Initially forced into hiding under assumed identities in Brussels, Carol and Fela were ultimately betrayed, transported to concentration camps and murdered by the Germans. But Ingrid survived the war with her grandmother Regina Braunstein by hiding with a Catholic family in North-Eastern Belgium.

When Regina and Ingrid  returned to the family apartment in 1945, they found that none of their possessions remained, the invading German forces had stolen everything. However, a large, meticulously crafted, wooden box adorned with a Star of David and a seven-branched menorah remained untouched.The box held a collection of 99 illustrations of the Bible produced by Carol Deutsch while in hiding in Brussels between 1941 and 1942, an impressive body of work that affirmed his Jewish identity which he created as a gift to his young daughter Ingrid in honor of her second birthday.

 I felt so connected to my great uncle  while viewing the display of his work. When faced with the heaviness of  his fate and the possibility of  his impending death his  choice of what to bequeath to his  precious daughter Ingrid was this masterpiece of Bible illustrations, the book upon which he was raised and upon which  his values where shaped. 

One of Carol Deutsch's 99 illustrations of the Bible
I can almost conjure up the image of the invading Nazis stumbling upon the wooden box as they raided the bounty of the contents of the apartment, instantly dismissing the box as a thing of no value or worth. How wrong they were. How powerful the message hidden inside the box. How ironic that they had the opportunity to physically destroy it but did not even realize its worth, could not even fathom its intrinsic and lasting value. 

After our tour of the art museum, the three of us, myself, my Aunt Josette and my cousin Philip, decided to sit together quietly with the reproduction of Deutsch's illustrations in all of their colorful and tantalizing splendor spread out between us. And almost magically we found ourselves drawn into the world that he had so deftly crafted, the stories of the bible suddenly coming to life for us, leaping off the pages into the quiet coffee shop where we sat, the air rife with the sibling enmity between Cain and Abel, the loving tenderness between father and son in Abraham and Isaac's embrace, the radiance of Moses with two rays of yellow light beaming from his face, the festivity of Miriam leading the women in joyous dance and song celebrating the defeat of the Egyptians, and on and on and on ... transporting us from 
the creation narrative in Genesis through to Moses' parting words to his beloved Israelites in Deuteronomy.

There we were, the descendants of Carol Deutsch, huddled together over his treasure. His pièce de résistance. And I couldn't help but wonder - Who knows what he might have gone on to create if his life had not been cut so brutally short? Who can say what new vistas his creativity might have unearthed if he had been spared his cruel death as a nameless inmate at the Ohrdurf subcamp of the notoriously horrific Buchenwald Camp? I have no answers and can make no sense of his senseless murder, just one among the murder of millions more of our people. And yet, although tragically he did not survive, his art and the great message that it embodies are still here with us today, painstakingly preserved and on display to the public in the Yad Vashem Museum of Holocaust Art. 

So, Uncle Carol I thank you for these works of great beauty and I thank you for your strength of spirit, your forward thinking and your faith in the continuity of the Jewish people, because despite all the sadness and suffering - we are here. And we are proud to move forward towards the future as a strong Jewish people, deeply rooted in our rich heritage, the vision that you believed at your very core would some day come to be. We have received your message and we value it, cherish it, and hold it dear. Here in this old new land, with the brightness of the sunlight reflecting off the Jerusalem stone so that it almost blinds us in its dazzling whiteness, we can still see the images of these age old stories, these tales that represent our very essence as Jews; our heritage and our legacy depicted in bright vivid colors that have emerged from the darkness to light the way for humanity.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Int'l Experts Explore Preservation of Holocaust Documentation in the Digital Era

Is there a need to invest in preserving original items in an age when it is possible to display a scanned image of them on the Internet?
In what manner does the digital age affect the traditional divisions between different types of collections?
To what extent can conservation experts intervene and "repair" torn documents or distorted film footage from the Holocaust period?
How can long-term preservation of digital copies of Holocaust documentation be ensured?

These are some of the questions along with many others that were discussed this week at an international experts' workshop, held at Yad Vashem and organized within the framework of the European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI) project. The workshop "Heritage and Memory: Revising Scopes and Means of Physical and Digital Preservation of Holocaust Documentation" addressed various issues and challenges of conservation of Holocaust period materials in the digital 
age as well as the intrinsic importance of the need to preserve these images.
This is the first international workshop of its kind, which is designed specifically for scholars involved in the practical, ethical and philosophical aspects of conservation of Holocaust heritage, and for professionals from various fields of conservation who imparted common experience and methodologies. The workshop included the participation of about 30 prominent experts from Europe, Israel and the U.S.A. in both physical and digital conservation and the preservation of primary sources, such as documents, photographs, artworks and artifacts. This workshop also touched on the dilemmas that have arisen in recent years in the ever-expanding field.

"Holocaust documentation is the basis for Holocaust research, was well as the core material for the production of museums and exhibitions, and a resource base for commemorative and educational activities for future generations," explains Yad Vashem Archives Director Dr. Haim Gertner. "These building blocks of memory are scattered across the world, in countless fragments. They were written in hiding, under difficult conditions, with poor materials. Part of the material was in private hands for many decades, not always in adequate conditions. This sensitive documentation is often the last testimony to the life of an individual, or to the execution of murder, and therefore preservation has significant moral, educational and legal implications. At the same time, there is a broadening interest of the wider public in accessing Holocaust documentation that is currently being addressed with the aid of advanced technology, but
contained within this exciting process are a number of issues that must be addressed."

The international scholars presented various papers pertaining to their field of expertise. Some topics discussed included the ethics of preservation of original materials, exploring the limits of digitization, physical and digital preservation of Holocaust documentation, opportunities and difficulties of digitization of Holocaust documents and low-cost imaging technologies for art and documents examination.  Dr. Haim Gertner commented that the Holocaust archives tell a very important part of history which was abruptly stopped. Therefore, it is our moral obligation to preserve these artifacts along with these personal stories which would otherwise be forgotten. In addition, the seminar was a great success in exchanging these international scholars' different areas of expertise. The seminar provided a platform for the dialogue to take place, which is only the beginning of continued dialogue. The Head of the Paper Conservation Laboratory of the Archives Division at Yad Vashem, Varda Gross, presented to scholars on the topic of preserving the existing and the missing in Holocaust material. She noted, "Items convey personal stories…These items express the power of life, in contrast to the ideology of 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Teachers who Rescued Jews during the Holocaust

This week, children in Israel, the US and elsewhere are returning to school after the long summer break.  As school gets underway, a new online exhibition at spotlights teachers who have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations – those remarkable individuals who took extraordinary risks to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.

Joseph Migneret was the principal of a public elementary school on the Rue Hospitalières St. Gervais, in the heart of the Marais quarter in Paris. During the massive roundup of the Jews of Paris on July 16-17, 1942, many of the Jews in the Marais were arrested. The Marais, known as the "Pletzl" in the interwar period, was the Jewish quarter where many Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe had settled. Migneret, who saw how his present and former students were taken away from their homes, held in appalling conditions and incarcerated in camps prior to their deportation, dedicated himself to saving as many Jews as he could. He joined a resistance network and began to provide false documents to fleeing Jews and to shelter others. Sarah Traube, who had attended Migneret’s school, hid for nearly two years in his home. Shlomo Fisher, another student of the school, was hidden by Migneret until a safe place could be found for him.  Migneret supplied others with forged papers that enabled them to reach the South of France. One former student, fourteen-year-old Joseph Schulman, who had been severely wounded while escaping from a transport to Auschwitz and who was hospitalized under police supervision, was taken care of by Migneret, who visited  him and tried to obtain his release. On March 28, 1990, Yad Vashem recognized Joseph Migneret as Righteous Among the Nations.
The new exhibition, “Their Fate Will Be My Fate Too.." :Teachers Who Rescued Jews During the Holocaust, brings the story of a dozen teachers, men and women from Germany, Albania, France, Italy, Serbia, Poland, Denmark, Belgium, Ukraine, and the Netherlands, who took action when so many others looked the other way.  Initiating rescue activities, hiding people in orphanages, homes and more, some of these Righteous paid the ultimate price.  

Sunday, August 24, 2014

ISIS, Nazis and the Ideology of Hate

As more news of the atrocities being perpetrated  by the Islamic State becomes publicly known, Dr. Robert Rozett sheds insight onto the dangers inherent in ISIS's ideology.

It would be eminently reasonable to suppose that the kind of evil embodied by the Nazis and their radical ideology of hate and exclusion should have disappeared from the face of the earth along with the total defeat of the Third Reich nearly seventy years ago. Such Ideologies, however, did not die out with the end of the Nazi regime. Today far too many groups still pursue exclusionist visions, propelled by ideologies of hate. They think, like the Nazis before them, that in the name of fanatical beliefs they have the right to decide who should live and who should die, and they act zealously on their murderous convictions. Perhaps most menacing among them today is the Islamic State, also known as IS, ISIL, ISIS, and DAESH.

ISIS bears some striking similarities to the Nazis, even if it differs in significant ways. The exclusivist new world order ISIS wants to create is not based on race, but on a fanatical variety of Islam. Like the Nazis, they seek to create a world only for a select few — not a master race, but for those who embrace their brand of Islam. They have shown themselves to be merciless in the pursuit of their vision and, like the Nazis before them, they have no qualms whatsoever about killing anyone who does not fit into their scheme of things.

Since it began conquering territory, ISIS has carried out ruthless acts against those who have no place in their new order and whom they consider their enemies. They have beheaded Shiite Muslims, since they do not follow ISIS’s brand of Islam, and they have proudly filmed and broadcast such scenes. They gave the Christians of Mosul the choice between forced conversion, flight or death, and now the ancient Christian community of Mosul is no more; and in the face of the same threats, the Christian Assyrians in Nineveh have fled. In the last few days they have forced the small religious minority of Yazidis to flee from their homes. There are estimates that tens of thousands of Yazidis are currently pitilessly stranded with little food or water, and according to reports hundreds have died. Although ISIS has yet to encounter Jewish communities in the areas they have taken, they are also threatening Jews with a new Holocaust.

Since ISIS has made the transition from a terrorist group without territory to rulers in the lands they have overtaken, all of these barbaric acts can be considered acts of state. The Nazi Holocaust of course was a state project, employing all the power and authority of the government to achieve it.

The Nazis showed the world where unbridled ideologies of hate and exclusion can lead: to world war, genocide and Holocaust. The six-year long, brutal and devastating war against them demonstrates how hard it can be to subdue this form of evil once it has taken hold. President Obama has used the word genocide to describe the threat posed by ISIS, and most certainly ISIS has a patently genocidal agenda. He has ordered air strikes to try to contain them. Given our awareness of history and our observations of the present, it is clear that ISIS and its ideology of hate and exclusion must be met squarely and resolutely by the international community. This must happen before the still localized flames of destruction they have ignited turn into a much wider conflagration; a conflagration that may take a tremendous human cost and effort to extinguish.

Dr. Robert Rozett is the Director of the Yad Vashem Libraries and author of Conscripted Slaves: Hungarian Jewish Forced Laborers on the Eastern Front, Yad Vashem 2013

This article originally appeared in the Times of Israel.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Yad Vashem Summer Seminars Attract Educators from Around the World

"This was a truly exceptional seminar.  It brought order to what I already know while enriching it intelligently." Participant in Seminar for Belgian Educators, July 2014

This summer, despite the difficult situation here in Israel, hundreds of educators from across the globe attended conferences and seminars at Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies.  This week alone, some fifty educators from Estonia and Portugal are attending seminars here on campus, and last week, the annual International Summer Seminar for educators took place as planned.

The seminars left an indelible impression on these educators who came from across the globe to take part in the programs of the International School for Holocaust Studies. For many it was an unforgettable personal experience. One summer seminar participant from Serbia, remarked “It was my first time to hear a Holocaust survivor. She spoke about the unspeakable and we were listening to the "unlistenable." Yet, she handled her shocking story in a kind of way that very few of us expected. She always upheld her humanity.”

Additionally, hundreds of educators attended the 9th International Educators' Conference as well as intensive seminars here on the campus. Participants hailed from Canada, the US, Australia, Poland, Serbia, Czech Republic, China,Finland, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Estonia, Germany, France, Ireland, Portugal, Serbia and more.  The educators had the opportunity to network with colleagues, dialogue with top educators, researchers and historians, meet Holocaust survivors, and explore the resources and museums at Yad Vashem, while experiencing the current situation along with Israeli colleagues.

Paulo Manuel Veira de Matos of Portugal remarked on the transformative influence of the seminar he attended, "I will never teach again the Holocaust as I did before I came to Yad Vashem." At the conclusion of the Seminar for Portuguese Educators, Anabela Vaz Jacinto commented "We have the committed  to being the ambassadors of the Shoah memory as educators and citizens of our country."

The 9th International Conference on Holocaust Education is generously supported by the Adelson Family Foundation, the Asper Foundation and the Claims Conference.

The annual International Summer Seminar is generously supported by the Claims Conference.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Abusing the Language of the Holocaust - Not Just Semantics

During the past few weeks, anti-Israel rhetoric, focused on Israel’s actions in the current battle with Hamas, has become, in many cases, synonymous with virulent antisemitism. 
This antisemitism, in the form of accusing Israel of perpetrating a “Holocaust” or “genocide” in Gaza, or of acting like Nazis, has also contributed to inciting physical antisemitism against Jews in Europe and elsewhere.  
The gratuitous use of Holocaust imagery in the propaganda efforts of Hamas and others is demagogic and dangerous. Such toxic imagery is frequently invoked in combination with elements of classic antisemitism, and venomous anti-Israel invective. It has become the language of discourse not only of Hamas and its supporters, but also of fellow travelers in the Arab world and the West.  
Language has power. The words we choose to use carry weight, and are meaningful. If we choose to label every event a Genocide or equate every event with the Holocaust, then we detract from the real meaning of those words and reduce their ability to represent true horror. As terrible as war is, and as painful as is the loss of civilian life, there is no factual or coherent parallel that can be drawn between contemporary events in Gaza and the historic events of the Holocaust.   
Shockingly, these facts must be repeated and repeated: 
The Nazis’ goal was to murder every single Jewish person in Europe, and ultimately in the world, a policy of systematic, mass murder of all Jews – men, women and children - simply because they were Jews. Based on their racial ideology, the Nazis established ghettos as part of a continuum of anti-Jewish persecution that culminated with mass murder in death factories in the heart of Europe.   
The conflict between the Palestinians and Israel is fundamentally about land and sovereignty, with tangible issues and a long convoluted history.  (Although the Hamas charter does contain genocidal antisemitic language).   
This is far beyond a simple question of semantics. Language is the currency in which we trade, and upon which our civilization rests. It is how we make ourselves understood, it is how we understand our world and reality.   We are already seeing the effects of the abuse of the language of the Holocaust in relation to current events.  It is obvious why Hamas would choose to use these terms, but when leaders of countries, communities, and of public opinion make similar claims, they must take into consideration the direct incitement to violence their words carry.